Fear has always been the strongest motivation for uniting people, but Americans are now divided by fear. Fear of what?
Some folks fear we are headed into a new isolationism under a military-commercial governance reminiscent of Nazi Germany. Others fear we are threatened by massive immigration, global terrorism, and a nuclear armed third world—a combination that would overwhelm a country directed by fuzzy ideals of social engineering. We’re warring among ourselves. Our sectarian separation is like that of the Middle East: Our politics stems from opposing beliefs of how things should be (idealism), rather than either how things are (that’s realism) or how things could be (factual goals).
Each person fears the other party will enforce a new grim reality. Each person fears that the future reality will suppress his own beliefs—beliefs being moral judgments, right and wrong.
Old folks remember the formidable fears of the 1930’s, but today’s rampant anxiety seems new. Technology and commerce change faster than a person (or a society) can adjust.
All things seem out of control. Even information is unreliable in a world where journalism has decayed into scattered truths buried in targeted advertising.
Most Americans feel isolated, alone. That’s because they are. A computer screen is not an intimate friend. We are connected to machines, but it is the machines that are connected to each other. Our own connections are remote.
Politicians win support by stimulating fear of catastrophes, either actual or hypothetical. That’s not new, but our response is now more immediate, more interconnected, more manipulated.
The now-endless Middle Eastern wars were triggered by political over-reaction to the attacks of 9/11. Those attacks killed about 3,000 people. About that same number are killed monthly in the U.S. by traffic accidents, but we accept that as routine. We react to spectacle, not fact. The spectacle, and your reaction, now spreads faster.
Detonation of a North Korean nuke or terrorist dirty bomb in the U.S. would trigger a massive panic. A hurricane might do more actual damage. In our fear we ignore two facts: several nations have nukes, and small nations gain grudging international respect by developing nuclear capability. The advantage in having a nuke is in not using it. It’s a ticket to the negotiating table. That’s true even for terrorists.
We should fear our reaction to a disaster more than the event itself.
We should also fear our non-reaction to impending disasters, such as climate change and disparity of opportunity.
The climate non-debate characterizes our frozen political reality, a continuing mock civil warfare that can ruin the country before the climate gets hot. With climate, nuclear, immigration, health care, public lands, and even earth science research, we fear to examine the facts because to examine would potentially violate the political pacts wherein each side maintains enrollment by making the other side wrong. You can make gravity wrong, too, but that doesn’t stop apples from falling on your head.
If a galvanizing event occurs, fear our response more than the event itself—and plan your reaction ahead of time. Now ask yourself: What do I fear most?
I fear most the fear itself.*
* “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” (Roosevelt, 1932).